Expectations vs reality of working and studying on the Executive MBA
17 October 2022

Mahes Balasubramanian, Executive MBA participant, shares how he adjusted to the reality of studying alongside work commitments. 

Coming from the renewable energy industry, five years ago I decided to study for an MBA to refine my leadership skills and develop a wider perspective of business. However, the nature of my job and responsibilities, plus family commitments meant it would have been difficult to fit in an MBA.  There was also no space to convince my management to approve my study. A few years passed, and COVID-19 happened, however, I did not give up on my dream to study for an MBA.

I was determined to pursue an Executive MBA so that I could physically spend time with the cohort and teaching faculty. I was also conscious of fully immersing myself in the modules to enjoy the course and reap the benefits. So, I chose the Executive MBA (EMBA) at Warwick Business School, which offers a four-day intensive course per module.

On paper, it sounded like a perfect plan. Pre-study preparing for the module, four days of teaching and then the assignment with a six-week gap before the next module. I was happy with this plan and convinced my management, family, and others.

Then came the challenge!

The last time I had studied intensively was during my engineering degree, 19 years ago, and that was outside of the UK. I found the first two modules difficult, as I was trying to balance my full-time leadership role, a young family, and becoming accustomed to the UK way of preparing and studying. Additionally, as I am from an engineering background I have always been used to conclusive answers. I had to become accustomed to seeing different views and answers for the same question – a famous MBA phrase “it depends” became a new way of thinking. This new approach of seeing multiple ways of approaching a topic, problem or question made it difficult for me to stay focussed and understand lessons. Consequently, I struggled to follow my plan and felt restless, which impacted my office life and family life.

I decided to play with my strengths to face my challenges. For the pre-study part, I started to be picky. I was reading the case studies only and went with a blank mindset to the modules. By having no module knowledge in my mind, I could switch off my ‘engineering’ brain. I could open up my ears and brain to what my cohorts discussed and the faculties’ answers and started to become more comfortable with understanding that there could be multiple answers or interpretations. Also, I started to seek clarification from the faculty or cohort during the module. Both these actions gave me immediate results; I took in the lessons well, participated in the module discussions fully, and enjoyed syndicate room discussions and learnings.

After the modules, I did not rush to do the post-assignment. I started by revisiting the key lessons by referring to my notes from the module session. I watched the recorded videos where I was unclear about the concept, cohorts' point of view, or faculty’s discussions. After that, I started to study books and journals. This process provided me clarity about the module contents and a clear flow to my assignment concept. This helped me to tackle assignments efficiently and, more importantly, I could apply the concepts I learned from each module in my job.

I am now at the halfway stage of my EMBA journey, finishing all my core modules and waiting for my first elective module to kick-start. Some of the housekeeping rules I continue to follow to keep me on track are:

  1. Ensure all the critical office activities are completed before I attend the modules in person. It helped me not to receive any critical calls from my Executive, and I could entirely focus during the module
  2. Make sure I understand all the concepts. Thanks to excellent faculties and cohorts, I did not leave any concept or topic unclarified before leaving for the day. It helped me to grasp the concepts properly and later for my assignment
  3. Do not rush any assignments. Due to office and family commitments, I started the writing part just a few days before the deadline. However, I did not feel pressured, as I was familiar with the concepts.

I really recommend the MBA programme and am enjoying the journey!

Find out more about the Executive MBA programmes.

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